With the rising cost of maternity packages in international clinics, greater numbers of foreigners and expats are having babies in Chinese hospitals.

The common perception of local hospitals from an expat perception is that they are, chaotic, overcrowded, understaffed, provide inferior levels of care and have cleanliness standards which may leave something to be desired.

However, based on China Expat Health’s own experiences with Chinese health facilities, this image is largely inaccurate. Whilst the quality of facility does vary somewhat, and waiting times may be a little longer than private facilities, many hospitals provide perfectly adequate levels of care.

And in terms of maternity hospitals, it may not come as a surprise that in a country famed for having the largest population on the planet, medical staff in China know a thing or two about bringing babies into the world.

If you are a foreign national having a child with a Chinese partner, obviously the entire affair will be much more straightforward. But for foreign couples the burden is far greater and the pressure more difficult to deal with.

Having a baby in China

It must be said that having a baby at the best of times can be a very stressful affair. It doesn’t take much imagination therefore to imagine how much more difficult starting a new family is in a different country.

However, armed with some knowledge and sensible preparations, there is no reason why having your baby in a Chinese hospital should not be considered a perfectly safe and risk-free environment to welcome your child into the world.

As soon as you confirm that you are expecting a baby, the first decision to make is which hospital the child will be delivered in.

You need not decide immediately of course, and after some consideration you may decide that indeed you would feel more comfortable either paying for an international hospital, or returning to your home country to give birth. You still will have time on our side should you wish to do this after all, it’s a big decision. However once you make the decision to give birth at a local hospital, you should use the time to familiarize yourself with what to expect. Generally speaking in China pre-natal classes are not so common – Chinese women typically have a pre-existing support network of older female relatives who will very gladly provide emotional support and pass on their knowledge and experience of what to expect.

For foreign couples, connecting with fellow expats who are also starting a family, or have experience of doing so in China is essential. Most Chinese cities have very active online communities – it is well worth investing in time seeking mums-to-be online.

For the regular check-ups which are necessary along the way, it is not uncommon to encounter some English speaking doctors or nurses in Chinese hospitals. However, this certainly cannot be taken for granted and you should be prepared to encounter a language barrier.

Even if you consider your own mandarin Chinese skills adequate, it is worth bringing an English-speaking Chinese friend along just to help things along.

If the hospital staff don’t speak English, just having an English-speaking Chinese with you helps avoid awkwardness and generally puts Chinese people’s minds at ease as they are often anxious to avoid offending foreigners via language misunderstandings.

And one of the advantages of living in China is that it is an extremely family-oriented country, so finding a Chinese friend to come along and help translate may be much easier than you think – a colleague or neighbour may be only too happy to help out.

One thing to be aware of is that some Chinese hospitals do tend to push for cesarean section births. These allow the charging of higher fees as the mother will typically remain in hospital for around five days after the birth. The actual procedure itself is also more expensive than a natural childbirth.

Hospitals also find cesarean births convenient as they can be scheduled to a particular time. As always, it pays to get a second opinion. Getting a one-off consultation at an international clinic may be worth the money and put your mind at rest.

However come what may, Chinese maternity hospitals have delivered many millions of perfectly healthy babies so there’s no reason why they cannot handle your child’s birth with the same professionalism and care one would expect anywhere.